Since mid-December, the U.S. aviation industry has been beleaguered by high-profile technology and safety snafus, including Southwest Airlines Co.’s holiday scheduling meltdown that left tens of thousands of passengers stranded, the Federal Aviation Administration grounding all domestic departures due to a computer system outage and five collisions or near-collisions involving passenger jets on the runways of major airports.
Morning Consult tracking data shows that these incidents are negatively impacting sentiment toward the industry: Americans’ trust in airlines fell 5 percentage points between December and February, bringing the metric to its lowest level since tracking began in late 2021.
A new survey conducted after most of the incidents revealed how Americans are thinking about the airline industry more broadly in light of recent troubled months.
Close to half of U.S. adults (48%) and a slim majority of frequent flyers (54%) said the industry should be more regulated. Meanwhile, 83% of Americans said air traffic controllers are responsible for runway safety situations, significantly more than the share who blamed any other tested air travel entity.
A Majority of Frequent Flyers Believe Airlines Should Be More Regulated
Adults generally in favor of additional aviation regulation
- Frequent flyers (those who said they fly three or more times per year for business or leisure) are more likely than the general public to report that airline regulations should increase. One in 5 adults said airlines should be “much more regulated,” compared with 28% of frequent flyers.
- However, about a third of each respondent group said airlines are sufficiently regulated. In a separate question, 74% of adults said an airline’s safety record is a major factor in their flight booking decision, second only to price (81%).
Air Traffic Control Viewed as Most Responsible for Runway Safety
Americans say airports, individual pilots are next-most liable
- More than half of both adults (57%) and frequent flyers (53%) categorized air traffic control as being “very responsible” in the case of collision or near-collision events involving passenger planes on runways. Approximately 2 in 5 (39%) adults said the same of airports and individual pilots.
- Airlines and the FAA, meanwhile, are seen as somewhat less liable for runway incidents — just over one-third of respondents reported each respective entity as “very responsible.”
- More than two-thirds of respondents said each tested group held some level of responsibility, suggesting that all aviation organizations are subject to significant consumer scrutiny.
Despite Americans’ considering airport-affiliated groups like air traffic control most accountable for recent on-the-ground safety episodes, airlines are still grappling with widespread customer and employee irritation. As a result, appeasing actions like United Airlines Inc.’s limiting of child seating fees and Delta Air Lines Inc.’s ratifying of a huge pilot pay bump will likely ripple across the industry throughout 2023.
The FAA is also navigating its own set of disgruntled stakeholders. In February, the regulatory body launched an internal safety review after facing multiple rounds of questioning by members of Congress over its competencies.
Travel habits may be continuing to return to normal, but the period of aviation industry upheaval initially spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic is proving it’s here to stay, at least for a little while longer.
The Feb. 24-26, 2023, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,202 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.